Q&A: Harnessing The Power Of Music

Music is a powerful tool. It can be a shorthand to engage consumers emotionally, taking them to a time in the past or inducing a feeling with just a few simple notes and background. For marketers, connecting a product to a piece of music or popular artist is a way to get more bang for one’s buck. Marketing Daily spoke with Jeff Rosenfeld, vice president of product for Music Audience Exchange, which uses fan data to help brands such as Dr Pepper, Jack Daniel’s and McDonald's, target audiences across radio, music streaming platforms and social media.

What do we know about the power of music for brands?

We’ve done studies that show that music is an essential part of identity for people. If you meet someone new, we find music sends the most powerful signal [for connection]. Even more so than sharing the same religion or politics. It’s deeply personal, and because of that, it’s a great way for brands to connect in a deep way with consumers.

How do you go about using the music to target that audience? How do you know they match up?

We’ve built up a database of consumer information from tens of thousands of fans. We’re asking them about their tastes in music, the genres they like, the sub-genres they like, as well as their tastes in fast-food or fine dining. We’re able to take that data and harness it for brands. A brand will come to us with a type of consumer they’re interested in reaching, and we’re able to take our data and match it with that consumer. We also have an artist database, in terms of music they play, the era they play in, whether they’re new or established. That allows us, with different brands, to identify a style that fits with a brand, and are able to offer up a few artists that fit that style. Then, we look for an authentic connection that exists among the brand and the artist. Ideally, you want an artist that’s passionate about your brand.

How much of this is an art, and how much is a science?

There’s a lot more science than you would initially think might be involved with something as soulful as music. What the data can allow you do to is say, “Here’s the type of artist that goes with this consumer.” But ultimately it comes down to what artist has a real relationship with that brand and what music really speaks for this brand. There’s only so much you can do with data, but it can tell you quite a bit about who an artist can connect with and whether that fulfills the goals of the brand. 

What risk do you run, if any, in using an artist or a brand? It is possible to turn people off by using the wrong music, isn’t it?

With music you can run targeted campaigns, where we’re running on a radio station that plays a style of music, and we’re targeting our ads at fans that like that genre of music. Essentially you’re able to target through social media and other areas, to reach people who might like that artist. It’s a form of music discovery for fans. People are not generally going to reject a brand because they don’t like a certain single. But there’s a good chance that if they like a single, it might facilitate a relationship that they wouldn't have had otherwise. 

What if an artist is deemed too “controversial” for a brand to stomach? 

We’re not going to pair up a brand with an artist that they’re not comfortable with. We do background checks on artists. It’s not like “whatever the formula spits out is the brand we’re going with.” It’s about finding the right artist for that campaign or that brand. 

When you find an artist for a brand, what’s your biggest hurdle to bring them together?

What we’ve done is a pretty novel way to use music. It’s not licensing in the background. It’s putting the artist in the center of the campaign. Whenever you’re doing something new, the biggest challenge is communicating the value of that and breaking the mold of what’s already out there. 

Why using the artist as the central aspect of the campaign?

You’re looking for something that’s going to connect with the fans. People can skip ads they don’t like. You want to put together an experience that is positive for fans and consumers. Putting the artist at the center of the ad essentially creates content that people are interested in, and it's a signal to people that you’re supporting of the types of artists they might like. It’s a pro-social approach to advertising that we’ve found is effective in creating high engagement and moving the needle on perceptions of the brand. 

What about from the artist side? What happens when an artist doesn’t view themselves as “that type of brand”?

If an artist isn’t comfortable, we don’t pursue the partnership. We’re looking to help those artists partner with sponsors that are going to be a good fit for them. One of the services we offer for free for artists is they can register for free on our site, and do a study of their fans. We use that data science for our campaigns to tell artists what are the different types of brands or industries that might be a good fit. That allows them to pursue sponsorships on their own. It’s not going to be a good campaign if the artist isn’t comfortable with the brand. 

Have artists shown more willingness to appear in advertising over the past few years? 

It’s interesting that almost every artist — a good two-thirds to three-quarters that we approach — they’re more than happy to work with a brand we’re approaching them about. Because in today’s music eco system there are fewer marketing dollars available. There’s a lot of music out there and not a lot of avenues to get attention. This legacy notion of “selling out” is a vestige of the past, and the artists are now excited about the prospect of working with brands. For them, it's a sort of indicator of success that this big brand wants to work with them. 

How does using music differ across different demographics? There was a well-publicized study from a few years ago that people stop listening to new music in their 30s.

That’s an interesting attribute that we’ve analyzed in our data set. There’s a strong cohort influence on taste in music. It’s not that people don’t listen to music, but there’s a certain sound that appeals to them. There may be new artists whose sound reflects what they’ve grown to love. We’ve been able to build out clusters of artists who appeal to fans that are from different generations. Some might be nostalgia acts, and some might be newer acts whose sound resonates with consumers. One of the things we look at is, for a different type of consumer, what are they types of artists that are going to appeal to that consumer, and how does it vary? It’s an important consideration in thinking about how to use music.

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